Helga Brown, geb. Steinhardt

In order to find a translator for our documents, I asked at the Wiener Library, and they suggested I get in touch with the Association of Jewish Refugees, to put an advertisement in their journal.

This I duly did, and I received a reply from Jeanette, the daughter of Helga Brown, geb. Steinhardt.

Helga has been patiently assisting me ever since to gradually work through our mass of hand-written letters and type-written documents. As Helga doesn’t have an internet connection, Jeanette has been equally patiently communicating with me, collecting the batches of letters, printing them off and posting them to her mother, and then typing out translations onto the screen and sending them back again.

After the first batch, Helga wrote the following, which just about bowled me over.

Of all the translators in all the world …

"Additional information regarding teachers at the Philanthropin in Frankfurt, which may be of interest. 

Henry Phillips, mentioned in one of the letters, was a colleague of my Father's - he also taught at the school, 1937-38. 

After Kristalnacht in November 1938, all Jewish teachers and the headmaster Dr Albert Hirsch were deported to a concentration camp in Buchenwald. There, inmates were beaten, tortured and abused. In order to obtain their release, evidence was required showing proof that emigration was possible. 

Sadly, Dr Phillips and Dr Marbach were so badly injured they had to be hospitalised on their return and neither of them survived. 

Others like my father, Hugo Steinhardt, remained in constant pain and suffered permanent ill health. Hugo Steinhardt died in England in 1942. 

Dr Hirsch was more fortunate; he arrived in Birmingham (UK) in August 1939, while his son Rudi joined us in Buckinghamshire in May 1939. He and his family moved to Iowa, USA, in the early 1940s. 

There is an entry in Das Philanthropin zu Frankfurt am Main, edited in 1964, for Werner Weissenberg, teacher at the Philanthropin, 1937-39; born in 1911 in Pless, emigrated to England 1939. I presume this is the person to whom the letters are addressed. 

There is also a group photo taken in 1937, which includes Dr Weissenberg amongst all the staff and a single photo of Henry Phillips. 

The book is in German, in part written by Dr Hirsch. I was also a pupil at the school for 2 years but I do not remember the teachers."

Later, Helga wrote some further information to me, to explain more about her family background.

Helga Steinhart was born in Germany in 1928. Her father was Hugo Steinhart, one of six siblings in an Orthodox Jewish family; her mother’s family was also Jewish but not Orthodox.

In 1933, when Hitler came to power, Hugo lost his job and could no longer afford the rent on the family home. They tried to emigrate to France but were unable to leave without visas and work permits. In 1934 to family moved to Wiesbaden, which was a larger town, where they hoped they would not be so easily recognised as being Jewish. They rented another apartment, took in a lodger, and Hugo gave private lessons. Helga attended a state primary school but after a few months all Jewish pupils had to leave.

In 1937 Hugo saw an advertisement for a couple to act as house parents in a Jewish boys’ home in Frankfurt. He was appointed to the post: his wife, Lily, was in charge of administration and he taught at Philanthropin school.

From 1937 onwards Nazi party members broke windows and conducted frequent searches for weapons; many restrictions were now in place for Jews. The children were attacked on the way to school during the terror or pogroms in November 1938. Homes were looted, and synagogues and even children’s homes were set on fire. Most Jewish men over the age of 18 were transported to Buchenwald or other concentration camps, including the male teachers at Philanthropin. Some died after their return due to their bad treatment. The school remained open, mainly because of the efforts of the women staff.

Then there was an announcement that those in the camps able to pay a sum of money and show evidence of being sponsored by willing relatives or friends abroad would be released.

The Steinhart family acted promptly by writing letters to eminent people abroad. Helga’s sister wrote to Lord Rothschild in London and Helga herself sent a letter to President Roosevelt. Helga received a standard reply: ‘Wait your turn’. But her sister’s letter met with success.

There was a large vacant house on the Waddesdon estate. James de Rothschild was willing to put it at their disposal and to fund their residence there. He sent a representative, his stockbroker, to make all the necessary arrangements in Frankfurt, to transport the boys aged 6 to 16 – and Helga’s family – to the UK.

My father returned from the camp but he was very frail. He had been beaten up.

On March 15th they travelled to Waddesdon. Helga attended a prep school in Aylesbury, took the entrance examination for Oxford High, and later gained admission to Manchester university, in 1946, to study German. She met her husband at university, who was also in the German department after service in the Navy.

They married in 1951 and had a large family. Helga taught French and German and translated many articles from German to English and from Yiddish to English.

Helga is still in contact with some of the ‘boys’ from the home who escaped with the Steiner family to the UK. Most lost their parents in the Shoah and many of her own relatives also died.

The young boys who had moved into the home in Germany were murdered, however. The teachers at Philanthropin and some of the parents also lost their lives, if they were unable to leave in time (before 1942).